Julia O'Reilly

I am one of those people who plans their life down to the minute and is still usually 15 minutes behind. While in my case, this often results in five late class arrivals, four missed phone calls, three friends on their last nerve, two collective brain cells and one dwindling will to stay awake, somehow everything gets done.

Okay, maybe I’m being dramatic. But it is like the college student folly that never was.

Keeping a packed schedule, although exhausting, can actually increase a person’s overall productivity and minimize stress by maximizing their efficiency. It sounds outrageous that having one task on your plate can somehow be less beneficial than a slew of to-dos. But for some, having a schedule that lacks the structure and routine of a jam-packed day can actually cause more stress. Rachel Goldman, Ph.D., a psychologist and assistant clinical professor at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, explained that, “When people don’t have a routine or structure to their day it can cause increased stress and anxiety, as well as overwhelming feelings, lack of concentration and focus.” Individuals are more inclined to stress and worry when they are afforded the time to procrastinate and excessively focus on future stressful situations. Loose schedules do not demand a sense of urgency to approach and address issues, allowing problems to fester within the breeding ground of a person’s otherwise unoccupied mind.

Activities that can fill a schedule do not need to be groundbreaking. Rather, it is often suggested that people focus on small tasks that can boost internal feelings of gratification. This can include making one’s bed in the morning, having scheduled meal and sleep times or even having a time of day to drink a cup of coffee. Dr. Indumathi Bendi, a primary care provider at Piedmont Physicians Buckhead, claims that, “When you reduce the number of decisions you have to make each day, you’ll have a deeper sense of peace as well as relaxation of the mind and body … Then you’ll be geared up to face your other tasks.” Picturing each task as another variable within a person’s day encourages them to set expectations for themselves.

Not only is this box-checking mindset conducive to an overall feeling of satisfaction when even simple tasks are completed, it also forces one’s thought process to rely on the idea that completing one task is the pre-requisite to the completion of the next. It gives purpose to every individual choice that is made, provoking mindful and active decision-making. One’s day becomes a clear roadmap where each pit stop is accounted for, maximizing efficiency rather than a scattered, directionless course that leaves one feeling unfulfilled when a day is done.

Some argue that busy schedules can be too overwhelming, contributing to an unparalleled level of stress in young people. Mary Tsuboi, a counselor at Northgate High School, discusses her students’ outrageous schedules, often including school, after-school sports, homework and college applications and explains that “Stress can be healthy and help us get things accomplished, but when we get too stressed it leads to depression, anxiety, sleeping and eating disorders.” While these are all common consequences for students that spread themselves too thin, Tsuboi fails to acknowledge that the adrenaline and diligent tendencies that come from maintaining a busy schedule are often different than the anxiety that can come from creating an unmanageable one. Maintaining moderation in regard to organizing a structured routine while prioritizing and penciling in sleep, meals and other essential facets of one’s health is key to the daily operation of anyone. Without these priorities, a lifestyle and schedule of any magnitude will not be sustainable.

WebMD also, in part, disagrees with Tsuboi’s point. They advocate for a busy routine, claiming that it can contribute to a healthier well-being because one’s stress levels will fall, they’ll sleep better and be happier. (3) This is all because when one’s life suddenly becomes a grocery list where each item checked off brings a feeling of gratification, they realize the agency they possess by acknowledging the power in every decision made and a standard for how they want to conduct themselves. It allows one to replace time spent mindlessly stressing with productive free time as reward for a day’s work, “Whether it’s reading, playing a video game or watching birds at a feeder, downtime is good for your mental health.” A heavily scheduled lifestyle reminds one that every minute counts, but it is up to them to count them. It defines a person, contributing to a more positive outlook on themselves, a more assured sense of self and what they prioritize.

If I can be with my friends at soccer practice, in class, on a run or binge-watching hours of my favorite show, I will be there. Frankly, I wish I could be everywhere at once. But, until some really smart people create the technology to make that happen, I’ll settle for stopping everywhere once. Even if it means I’m running around like a madwoman from the minute I wake up until the minute I lay down at night. If I can, I will. And I honestly wouldn’t be who I am if I lived any other way.

Julia O’Reilly is a sophomore majoring in biology.